While most of us don’t want to think about funeral planning before the death of a loved one or our own death, it is good to do. Here are some simple things to know and think about.
The difference between a funeral and memorial service is that at a funeral the body of the deceased is present and at a memorial service it is not.
FUNERAL OR MEMORIAL SERVICE
I pastorally support having a funeral service and a simple graveside gathering immediately following the service. There are times when this is not possible or even desirable but as rule, it usually is very doable. I think a funeral service is a better choice because it gives an opportunity for a final good-bye in an atmosphere of worship. Too many memorial services end up focused only on the memory of the person who has died with little place for Jesus and the truth of the life given to us by Him. A funeral service usually has a firmer boundary on its content and a more spiritual focus. With symbol speaking more powerfully than words when a person is in grief, the reality of the incarnation (Christ in us) and the promise of resurrection can be tangibly a place of comfort when the body of beloved is with the worshipping mourners.
I also would suggest having a Vigil gathering (Wake or Reviewal) the evening before the funeral, either at the funeral home, if one is used, or in a worship space. This helps provide family and friends a time to gather, prayer and remember together. It is important to ask a pastor for help so to allow others the space to grieve and not have to host and facilitate.The Vigil creates a space to recall the life of the person in all its parts.
Although many like to be involved directly in the funeral itself, each person must consider what is best in their own process of grief. It is sometimes better to allow yourself to be a recipient of the grace availed in the moment and invite others to carry the day for you.
ORDER OF SERVICE
A good funeral has a simple worship order with favorite scriptures and a couple of hymns/worship songs focused on the resurrection and the hope of heaven. Special music is nice when it is well sung and rehearsed. One prepared eulogy to be read by a family member or friend is all that is necessary if a Vigil was held. Other wise, no more than three, very short, and prepared—written beforehand—stories of the person can be shared at the Funeral. The funeral’s main focus should be on Christ and not on the person. It is up to the pastor to hold this in tension with a family’s desire to remember their loved one well.
CREMATION AND BURIAL
When the body of the beloved is cremated, I believe the most honorable handling of the remains is to bury them at a cemetery, marked with a gravestone. For many families this may seem like an added expense and unnecessary. Unfortunately, there are many stories of mishandling of people’s remains after the death that do not honor them or their memory nor the “house” in which the Spirit of God dwelt in for many years. I know of some who have never been “laid to rest” but stored for years in the back of a closet or on a mantle. Others desire to sprinkle their loved one (or be sprinkled themselves) in their favorite spot or backyard. Again, there may be reasons why this seems like a good short term decision, but it may not be taking into consideration the generations that will come after and their potential desire to remember physically a loved one’s time on earth. To many a cemetery visit is an important way of recognizing the connectedness we all have to family and each other.
I hope this was helpful. Feel free to ask questions. Dialogue is important.
Here are some questions to think about:
What scriptures speak to you about the promise of resurrection and the hope of the life to come?
What scriptures bring to you God’s comfort in times of pain?
Would you like to buried? If so, where?
Woud you like to be cremated? If so, what are your thoughts about what will happen to your ashes?
Would you like a Vigil? If so, what elements would you include?
If you died tomorrow, who would you like to give your eulogy at the funeral service?
Who have you talked to about your plans? Choose someone today and have a conversation.